Dermot Gallagher exclusive: Referees shouldn't train with clubs and focus on the positives of VAR

VAR has been the cause of plenty of controversy since its Premier League inception two seasons ago, with many having been left to feel hard done by based on what they perceived to be wrong decisions not being overturned, or decisions not going in their favour.

But, when 101 Great Goals sat down with ex-PGMOL official Dermot Gallagher, he warned that the technology will not be able to help fans reach consensus on decisions, given the tribal nature of the sport.

"Decisions are always going to be subjective, that’s the nature of the beast," the experienced former Premier League referee claimed. "You and I can sit in the luxury of the director's box, if you like, at any ground in the Premier League, and we can have a monitor in front of us like lots of the Premier League managers have the iPads. We can look at a decision and you may feel penalty, and I may feel not. That’s how life is."

"If you see the polls on a Monday morning, they’ll say 60% think penalty and 40% think not. That’s always going to be the way."

And, when it comes to the often ridiculed use of the technology, and its flaws, Gallagher was quick to argue that, from his point of view, he would rather look for the positives in the system than the potential issues.

On VAR, he admitted: "My glass is half full. I think if you showed 10 clips and people say they got five right and they got five wrong, I’d rather focus on the five that they got right because before VAR, they would have got 10 wrong because they would have always gone with referees' decision. 

"The fact that you’ve got half of them redressed if you like, has got to be comfort and an improvement."

VAR improvement is not the only technological advance that fans are keen on, with plenty also wanting access to the communication between the referee and VAR team at Stockley Park, so as to understand how the officials have reached their decision.

The technology has been used well in other sports, with cricket and rugby two examples where communication between the officials and those operating the technology can be heard.

For Gallagher, however, he feels as though such a change could be a case of attempting to run before learning to walk, with the potential of only adding to the confusion.

"I see the logic in it and I see the benefit of it, but I’m a bit bricks in the wall about it," he told 101.

"At the moment, VAR is evolving. In the two years we’ve had it, it’s moved on from where it was to having replays of the incident shown on the screen after VAR has made a check, the communication is better. In the ground, at 18 of the 20 grounds you’ve got the big screens that immediately tell fans what they are checking for, so the supporters do know."

He was also quick to point out that such access already exists, albeit only to broadcasters.

"What I think is really good at the moment is that the broadcasters hear what the VAR says to the referee. I know it’s one way traffic at the moment, but again that’s a step forward," he claimed.

"Let’s get that right. Let’s get everybody comfortable with it, let’s get everybody going 'yeah this is great', and then when everybody is happy with it, then you can move it on to the next step. But I’m reluctant to get the next step until you’ve convinced everybody to buy in."

Don't let refs train with teams, warns Gallagher

In March, there were suggestions that referees could be in line to train with Premier League clubs from the 2022/23 season, under suggestion from Manchester United boss Ralf Rangnick, who put it forward as an idea to improve relations between players and referees.

As per reports, 'while details are yet to be ironed out, such a move would see officials permitted to use the facilities at clubs, and they could referee training-ground matches as part of an attempt to build a better understanding of the role.'

However, this is something that could cause more harm than good, Gallagher warns, with walls being broken down potentially leading to subconscious bias or referees being put in sticky situations.

"I wouldn’t be comfortable with that," the Irishman admitted.

"I can see the benefits of training because when I was home I’d train with St Pats, and without doubt, I could see the benefits of training with them, but there was no conflict there because I was never going to ref them."

"But when we sat down to lunch afterwards, they’d quiz me about decisions and I think you could be in a difficult position there, because I think you’d be under pressure to explain things that you might not want to," he warned.

As Gallagher points out, there is already communication between officials and players ahead of every season, which is beneficial to all parties.

"They've got a halfway house at the moment where the referees go into the clubs in preseason, and I think this is great, where they go in and take a DVD in with tackles on that explains the law changes.

"They say 'this is what’s changed, this is how we are going to interpret them, these are the tackles we don’t like, bear in mind, without doubt, there is probably one in the season that we will miss, we accept that'."

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Ben Browning

Ben Browning

Football writer and analyst. Long-time writer of all things Arsenal and avid watcher of European football. Happy to discuss all things football over on Twitter.

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